Is Community College Truly the Best Choice for Your Education (and Finances)?

by Jessica Sommerfield · 5 comments

In an attempt to make college (which is an essential step for most young adults entering the career field) more affordable for everyone, President Obama recently announced his proposal of joint federal and state-funded community college tuition.

While the details are still under wraps,  the program is loosely based on a current program in Tennessee that requires students to meet minimum GPAs and fulfill community involvement hours. While this could create better opportunities for students burdened with loan debt, it would also mean further government spending (read: more tax dollar spending).

Could paying for students’ tuition at a community college really help them graduate with a four-year degree and find well-paying, stable jobs?

While considering this question, let’s discuss the advantages and potential disadvantages of attending a community college versus a university.

Advantages of Attending Community College

Community college tuition is cheaper. Tuition at community colleges is at least half the price of most universities and private colleges. This is the biggest draw for students who want to save money, while completing general education credits, before transferring to a larger college to finish their degree.

Community college is the preferred option for some degrees. For those interested in technology, trade, and service-related fields, community college is often all that’s necessary. Why spend more money at a university when you can get when you need for a fraction of the cost?

Community college eliminates the need for housing.  Living on campus or renting near the university campus can add thousands of dollars to your student loans. Even if you, or your child, want to get a degree from a particular university, choosing to attend a community college for a few years while living locally represents tremendous savings.

Disadvantages of Attending Community College

Credits from a community college don’t always transfer. Unfortunately, because community colleges aren’t as accredited as universities and traditional colleges, their credits aren’t always compatible with other institutions. Some universities only give partial credits, while others will not accept them at all. It’s important to find out if your community college’s credits will transfer before you spend time and money.

Transferring can a make your degree take longer to complete. Because of incompatibility between credits from a community college and degree requirements from another college, your four-year degree could end up stretching into five or more years. Financially, this means more years of student loans, while being unable to earn higher income. If you want to take advantage of the savings of community college without sacrificing another year of school, consider attending only one year before transferring, and checking your degree requirements carefully so you know which classes to take.

Textbook costs are the same. Textbooks cost the same wherever you attend college, and this is an expensive cost many students fail to consider. It’s uncertain whether the President’s program will include textbook expenses, but the best way to save is to never buy new. Shop for used copies in the campus library, online, or from other students — and whenever possible, opt for electronic versions of course materials.

Before Deciding on Community College

Deciding to attend a community college as part of a plan to complete your four-year degree is, at first glance, a great step for your finances.

But if you fail to consider your ultimate goal, or don’t research your credits transferability, you may end up wasting both time and money on credits you can’t use.

Consider all the pros and cons when deciding whether community college is a good financial and life choice for you.

Are you or your child considering community college? What are some of the pros and cons you’ve listed before making the final choice?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Bert says:

    I have a friend who teaches an Introduction to Accounting class. He retired from a tenured position a couple of years ago, and now works part time mornings. He divides his time between the university and community college in town, working at one on Tues/Thurs and the other on Mon/Wed/Fri. He is actually paid a little more by the community college. He uses the exact same text book and lesson plan in both institutions. He tells me that there are several fields where the student experience is superior at the 2 year level over the four. The financial rewards should be obvious. I find the previous comments about difficulties in transferring to be odd. A large university has no social designation for a transfer student. It is quite easy to fit in with others of one’s major. Academic credits from an accredited community college will transfer. However, it is always wise to investigate to avoid unnecessary repetition. In my town, the four year counselors will lay out a schedule for the two year student, which provides a seamless transition when the student reaches the junior year. All in all, a community college education would be the way to go in most cases, especially those considering the costs.

  • M.H. says:

    Community college provides a diminished experience for intelligent students. Many people who attend these schools just don’t care to learn or advance in their education and their immature behavior can interfere with students looking to transfer to a 4-year university and complete a bachelors degree. In addition, if you attend a 4-year university for the duration of your studies, you be grounded in the university’s standards in writing etc which you will need especially in your core subjects. Community college transfers won’t have this edge.

    As far as finances go, it is worth it to seek out reputable universities who offer financial assistance to students in need. Work hard to win scholarships as well.

  • Ryan says:

    Your first year of university is very important to building social and support networks. I find that transfer students have a hard time fitting in and making friends when everyone their age already has their friend groups established. The “university experience” might cost more money but being happy in college also decreases your odds of dropping out and wasting all that money. I wouldn’t trade my university experience (North Dakota State University) for the savings of a couple grand. I’m a shy guy so building my social network as a transfer would’ve been so much more difficult.

    I see President Obama’s plan as very good for people that only want a two year degree: associates or technicians. Most of the time you can still get good paying jobs with two year degrees, and that fact is so often kept a secret. The myth that a more expensive degree will put you ahead is just doing a disservice to the economy and everyone’s finances.

  • Jon says:

    I went to a traditional college for 4 years and wouldn’t change a thing about it. But before I went, my Mom made some strong points about going to community college for 2 years and then transferring.

    My advice would be to go to community college if finances are an issue or you have no idea what you really want to major in.

  • Michelle says:

    I took some community college courses and highly recommend it. If you ask the college you plan on transferring the credits to what will transfer and what will not, that will solve that problem 🙂

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